The church is the only entity that can remedy the delinquency of our youth.
We have a problem. Our youth have become prey and predator. There was a time when they were free to play outdoors with no fear of being struck by a stray bullet or intentionally targeted by a rival gang member. But today, they not only live in fear of having their lives unnecessarily cut short, they also have become the hunters.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, 1,375 American youth 17 or younger died due to gun violence in 2020. What’s more troubling is we have become conditioned to accept it as a normal part of life. Our churches, communities, and country are no longer alarmed by the senseless deaths of our children, let alone nearly 1,400 in one year. If we were, we would do whatever was necessary to solve the problem.
The truth is that our children are suffering the consequences of a culture that was incubated during the crack epidemic and exported through gangsta rap. C. Delores Tucker made every attempt to warn us of the dangers of this music, but those of my generation—Generation X—chose to side with Tupac. Today, our youth no longer aspire to be doctors and lawyers or even president or vice president, despite the historic achievements of President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris. Our girls have become hypersexualized, and our boys have become killers. And we all are to blame.
The crack epidemic destroyed the nuclear family, leaving grandparents to raise their grandchildren or the kids to raise themselves. As more black men were killed or incarcerated, NWA, Tupac, and other gangsta rappers became role models. The pathway to success was no longer education and hard work; it was rapping about violence, drug money, and promiscuous women. For a while, some of the rappers were studio gangstas. That is, they rapped about a life they were not living. But this evolved into real gangstas rapping about their real-life experiences. With the advent of social media, gang members can now post raps about their acts of violence against their rivals, further fueling the carnage in our communities.
Currently, we find ourselves faced with a situation where no place in America is safe, including downtown Chicago. Because we failed to address the problem when it was contained in poorer neighborhoods, every neighborhood is in danger of experiencing violent crime as this sociological variant continues to spread. From the wealthiest parts of town to the poorest, the violence that was once confined to “low-income communities” has become indiscriminate. And though it will take a comprehensive approach to remedy this forty-year problem, the church must be at the forefront of the effort.
Three Things We Must Do to Reclaim Our Youth
To reverse the delinquency of our youth, we must start with a biblical approach to childrearing. Scripture instructs us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6, NASB). There are three things that must happen to reverse the curse our communities are under.
1. Children must be trained up. A few weeks ago in Chicago, hundreds of youth swarmed the downtown area, causing havoc. Sadly, 16-year-old Seandell Holliday was shot and killed in Millennium Park. The question everyone is asking is, “Where are the parents?” And this is a valid question. What Solomon seeks to teach us is that parents have the responsibility for training up our children to follow God. But this assumes that the parents are following God. We know today that our country is becoming more secular, resulting in less people knowing Christ or the truths concerning the Christian faith. So the real question is not, “Where are the parents?” The real question is “Where is the church?” It’s the church’s responsibility to disciple adults so they are able to come to the knowledge of Christ and begin to raise their households in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
The word “train” carries the idea of dedication and initiation. In the case of our children, we are to dedicate them to the Lord and initiate them in the ways of the Lord. The NET Bible says, “This proverb pictures a child who is dedicated by parents to the Lord and morally trained to follow him.” Sadly, our children are being trained, but not in the ways of the Lord. They are being dedicated to Satan and initiated to twerk, shoot, and loot by the likes of drill music, ungodly influencers, and televised and social media.
If the church is not able to reach the parents, it must make a concerted effort to reach the children directly. The prince of the power of the air is brazenly going after our youth, and we must be as determined to do everything within the power of God’s might to fight for them. We are at risk of losing another generation of young people who will one day become parents. This is where we must put our stake in the ground and fight like the citizens of Ukraine for our children. Each one that we rescue, we must dedicate to the Lord and initiate into the Christian faith, trusting God to keep him or her by His power and grace.
2. The nuclear family must be held up. Marriage is losing its luster. Only 53% of Americans are married, down from 58% in 1995. As our cultural mores, which were shaped by biblical values, have continued to erode, the traditional family has become viewed as antiquated. But God’s design and desire was for each household to consist of a wedded mother and father and their child(ren). This has not changed. Yet, society has pushed vehemently to redefine and reject marriage altogether so that it could do what it wanted. Well, we see how great that has worked out.
Earlier, I mentioned that everyone is asking, “Where are these kids’ parents?” I find it ironic that society wants familial accountability without holding itself accountable for the breakdown of the nuclear family. What Solomon instructs us in Proverbs 22:6 assumes the father and mother will work in partnership to dedicate and initiate their child(ren) in the ways of the Lord. The wisdom book of Proverbs repeatedly lists instructions given by the father or mother to their child. For example, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (1:8). Thus, the nuclear family is vital to what a child is instructed and taught.
As the church, we are mandated to proclaim and teach what the Bible prescribes. Despite what the culture says and does, we are the salt and light of the earth; therefore, we are responsible for being the standard bearers of God’s will for His creation. His will is a wedded mother and father who raise their children in the instruction and guidance of the Lord. Even if the culture holds the nuclear family down, the church must hold it up—because who else will do it if the church does not.
3. The extended family must be built up. We often cite the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This was much easier to achieve when we lived in the same house as grandpa and grandma, and uncle and auntie. But today, upward mobility has resulted in the mass spreading of families across the country. That extended family support system was a critical resource for dedicating and initiating children in the ways of the Lord. For even if the parents didn’t follow the Lord, grandma was there to take us to church with her, ensuring we were instructed and guided in the Christian faith.
Furthermore, the community itself was a type of family. It was not uncommon for neighbors to have a parent’s permission to correct the children in the neighborhood on the parent’s behalf. There was a mutual understanding that all the kids were “our kids,” even if they were not our biological children. And in the event that no one in our household went to church, our parents would send us to church with the neighbor who did because they understood that church would teach us morals and values that would benefit us long term.
This is why our communities—the extended family—must once again adopt the village mentality and rear our children corporately and cooperatively. The nuclear family has been too devastated to leave single mothers and fathers to raise their children on their own. Too many grandmothers just don’t have the strength or resources to manage their grandchildren. But, collectively, we can build a hedge around our young people to protect them from the threats without and to provide for them the resources they need within.
We can rebuild the extended family by churches engaging and investing in their neighborhoods within a half-mile radius, restarting block clubs and CAPS programs, and adopting schools as a start.
The Church Is at a Crossroad
The church can no longer sit idly by as our youth perpetuate a cycle of self-destruction. After all, these are some of our children and grandchildren. And if they are not, they could victimize them and us. So we have a vested interest in their well-being, as it directly affects ours. Mordecai told his cousin Esther that God may have raised her to the position she held to address the existential threat the Jewish people were facing (Esther 4:14). I believe Mordecai’s words still ring true today. Either we can do nothing and suffer the consequences of our inaction, or we can collectively pray to God for the strategy and resources to tackle an issue we can no longer ignore. My prayer is that the church chooses the latter.
Rev. Isaac Hayes is the president of Healing of the Soul Ministries. He is also an Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, Illinois, and a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @RevIsaacHayes.
 Anna Carlson, “Child Deaths By Gun Violence in 2021 on Pace to Be Worse Than 2020's 1,375 Killings," Newsweek, October 11, 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/child-deaths-gun-violence-2021-pace-worse-2020s-1375-killings-1637637?msclkid=f044c77ecf9d11ecb4831b0d2ac37c14.  William Lee, Rosemary Sobol and Gregory Pratt, “Mayor Lightfoot bans unaccompanied minors from Millennium Park after 6 p.m. in wake of 16-year-old’s fatal shooting near The Bean,” Chicago Tribune, May 16, 2022, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-teen-shot-the-bean-20220515-xshtk4aaprdurnchpac4syy42u-story.html.  Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).  Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Nikki Graf and Gretchen Livingston, “Marriage and Cohabitation in The U.S.,” Pew Research Center, November 6, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/11/06/the-landscape-of-marriage-and-cohabitation-in-the-u-s/.